If you work in an organisation that deals with social, social problem solving inventory revised pdf or financial planning – or any type of public policy planning – then you’ve got wicked problems. You may not call them by this name, but you know what they are. They are those complex, ever changing societal and organisational planning problems that you haven’t been able to treat with much success, because they won’t keep still. Introduction In 1973, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, both urban planners at the University of Berkley in California, wrote an article for Policy Sciences with the astounding title “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”.
At first glance, it is not self-evident what is actually meant by this term. Also, wicked problems are not actually “problems” in the sense of having well defined and stable problem statements. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has de-veloped to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Some say that we are wiser today, and less susceptible to the belief that complex social planning problems can be “solved” by linear methods akin to engineering solutions. I am not so sure about this.
In any event, it is instructive to look at the original formulation of the distinction between “wicked” and “tame” problems. First, let us look at what characterises a tame problem. Wicked problems are ill-defined, ambiguous and associated with strong moral, political and professional issues. Since they are strongly stakeholder dependent, there is often little consensus about what the problem is, let alone how to resolve it.
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Furthermore, wicked problems won’t keep still: they are sets of complex, interacting issues evolving in a dynamic social context. The most evident, and important, wicked problems are complex, long-term social and organisational planning problems. How should we fight the “War on Terrorism? How do we get genuine democracies to emerge from authoritarian regimes? What is a good national immigration policy? How should scientific and technological development be governed? How should we deal with crime and violence in our schools?
How should our organisation develop in the face of an increasingly uncertain future? While studying a novel and complex problem is natural and important, it is an approach that will run out of gas quickly if the problem is wicked. Pure study amounts to procrastination, because lit-tle can be learned about a wicked problem by objective data gathering and analysis. The wicked problem simply reasserts itself, perhaps in a different guise, as if nothing had been done. Or, worse, sometimes the tame solution exacerbates the problem.
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